Quarterback Jeff Garcia and the rest of Tampa Bay’s offense made a statement in a 31-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Garcia did a good job of leading the offense and the Bucs finished drives with touchdowns on four of five scoring opportunities. With that performance, the offense showed the NFC South division and the rest of the NFL that this team has the talent to put points on the scoreboard.
The Bucs showed that they can score touchdowns with long drives or have the quick-strike ability to score in five plays or less. Tampa Bay’s first scoring drive consisted of eight plays for 57 yards and took 4:36 off the clock. The next two scoring drives had a combined five plays, including 69- and 24-yard touchdowns from Garcia to wide receiver Joey Galloway that took 2:13 off the clock.
Head coach Jon Gruden really doesn’t have a preference of how the offense gets the ball into the end zone as long as the Bucs are scoring touchdowns. Even during the 2002 Super Bowl championship season when Gruden’s offense came together in the playoffs, the Bucs never had a receiver like Galloway, who is the most explosive player in Gruden’s tenure in Tampa Bay.
“Joey is just an awesome, awesome receiver. It’s a pleasure of mine to be able to play with a guy like that,” Garcia said. “The abilities that he brings to the field, the speed, the knowledge, the experience; all of those things go hand-in-hand with him and I think that where he is at and where I’m at in my game, I think we see a lot of things similarly. We are able to communicate and able to talk to each other about what we are seeing on the field and why things are happening or why certain things didn’t happen and work through it. He’s patient, not an ego type of guy, not a throw me the football type of guy. I know he wants the football and I know he knows that he can contribute to this team in big ways and I’m going to do my best to find him and give him those opportunities.”
Galloway has become the favorite target of Garcia after two games and the 13-year veteran has nine receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Galloway is averaging 23 yards per reception and is opening up opportunities for other receivers in the offense. Ike Hilliard, who has received the nickname “Mr. Third Down,” has become a good complement for Galloway.
Hilliard has six receptions for 100 yards this season and had a big reception against the Saints with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. The 11-year veteran wide receiver had a 41-yard catch in the second quarter that allowed the Bucs offense to increase their lead to 21-0 heading into halftime. Those are the kind of plays that Gruden is looking for from the receiver that plays opposite of Galloway.
“He’s not a No. 2, we don’t really have a No. 2 guy,” Gruden said. “He might start the game, but I think Ike will admit that we are getting it done by committee and hopefully Ike continues to do what he’s doing because he’s playing really good football for us. He’s very consistent and whatever he is in the batting order he’s going to be a big part of the lineup.”
Garcia has been impressed with Hilliard’s knowledge of the offense and the experience he brings. The nine-year veteran feels like there is another quarterback on the field when Hilliard is in the game. Garcia believes that the Bucs offense made a statement with its play on Sunday, but must keep building on the growing success on the field.
“It just showed that this offense is capable of creating big plays, creating opportunities of scoring within two minutes, of pounding the ball when it needs to pound the ball,” Garcia said. “I think a lot of good things came out of last week, but it’s not so much about thinking about what defenses have to worry about with us. It’s about us taking care of business and worrying about what we have to do. If we can do those sort of things, be sharp when the time comes on Sunday, we are very capable of making big plays, of creating explosion, creating great offensive output. That was exciting to see, but it something that needs to be consistent. We need to be precise and continue to build on what we did last week.”
JACKSON NEXT TEST FOR BUCS D A week after containing New Orleans running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, the Bucs defense gets no rest with St. Louis running back Steven Jackson coming into Raymond James Stadium. Jackson, who is a threat out of the backfield, has started the season slowly, not recording a 100-yard performance so far this year. Jackson has been held to 60 and 58 yards, respectively, as the Rams have started the season 0-2.
Despite the slow start, Jackson is one of many Rams offensive weapons that the Bucs must contain to have a chance to win. Jackson, along with wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, pose another tough challenge for the defense on Sunday. The Bucs defense will need to get more pressure on quarterback Marc Bulger than they did on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to disrupt the offensive flow.
“This is actually the first time I’ve ever watched Steven Jackson and he’s really impressive,” Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud said. “I think he’s one of the best in the league, if not the best. He’s big, he’s strong. He makes great cuts and he fights for every yard. Bulger is going to get sacked to let his receivers get downfield. He’ll sit in the pocket and wait for his receivers to get open. They have a really good offense. It’s a big challenge, just like last week.”
Jackson has been compared with all-everything San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson as the next great running back in the NFL. Jackson rushed for 1,528 yards on 346 carries and scored 13 touchdowns along with 90 receptions for 806 yards with three touchdowns in 2006. Jackson gives more opportunities to Holt and Bruce, but the offense still begins and ends with the powerful running back out of Oregon State.
“I love Steven Jackson, he’s a beast and a great receiver; nobody talks about that enough,” Gruden said. “He can take a 2-yard check down 70 yards and I’ve seen him do it. He’s a tremendous football player, a power runner, an elusive back. He’s the complete package. He’s not off the start I think that he’s accustomed to being off to, but he’s one or two plays away from exploding right back on to the scene. He’s a tremendous talent and a heck of a guy, too.”
WHITE QUICKLY CLIMBING THE LADDER Defensive end Greg White got a big opportunity for some playing time in the defensive line rotation against the Saints and took advantage by recording his first career sack. White was very active with his pass rush and in the running game and should expect to see more playing time against the Rams this Sunday.
White, who joined the Bucs after playing for the Orlando Predators in the Arena League, has continued to work his way onto the field. Gruden’s brother, Jay, was the one who suggested that White deserved a shot and the Bucs are happy with the results so far.
“He’s getting things done and as long as you don’t discriminate who plays you have to recognize that White is a good pass rusher,” Gruden said. “He got one big sack in the game, drew a holding call beating the guy clean. He’s got a natural pass rush and I know my brother is going to miss him down there in Orlando and I can see why.”
White isn’t the only player that Jay Gruden has recommended to his brother for a shot in the NFL. Back in 2004 when former place kicker Martin Gramatica was struggling with kicking field goals, the Predators place kicker, Jay Taylor, was brought in and remained on the team for the rest of the season.
White is happy about getting the opportunity to play in the NFL, but knows that he has to continue to work hard to keep his spot on the team. The defensive end, however, is enjoying every perk that he is getting in the NFL.
“The plane flights are a lot easier, food is a lot better so it is an upgrade,” White said. “Not taking anything away from the AFL, but it’s definitely an upgrade.”
INJURY UPDATE Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (knee) and cornerback Brian Kelly (groin) returned to practice on Wednesday participating in limited action. Left tackle Luke Petitgout and wide receiver Joey Galloway took their appointed rest day by the team during the week. Galloway and Petitgout don’t have an injury, but did sit out of practice.
Kelly continues to rehab his injury and is hoping to get back on the field against the Rams on Sunday.
“I’m just rehabbing it up and I’ll see how it goes,” Kelly said. “I feel pretty good about this week. We’ll just see how it goes through the week and how I’m moving. I feel like I have a good chance of being out there.”
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